We’ve been back in China for over a week now, and although our quarantine is now technically over, we are still spending most of our time at home. Most things are still closed, so we haven’t had much choice. I thought you may all be wondering what it’s like back in Suzhou at the moment, so a quick update is in order.
The Trip Back to China
Our flight back to China was fairly uneventful. We put on our masks, and tried to get a bit of sleep. We landed at around 9:30 at Pudong airport, and that’s when we started seeing the differences in this country we’ve made our home…
Pudong was remarkably empty. Even at 9:30, it’s usually a very busy place. We made it through customs quickly and got our luggage in record time. The emptiness wasn’t the strangest thing though… The hazmat suits are what unnerved me.
All over the airport, there were people taking temperatures, wearing heavy-duty masks and full on plastic suits ranging from ‘that kinda looks like a trash bag’ to ‘whoa, that guy’s wearing a hazmat suit’. It felt like a scene from the movies. Still, we moved through without issue.
Suzhou has a population of about 8 million people, but no airport, so our journey wasn’t over once we cleared customs. At the moment there are 3 options to get back to Suzhou from Pudong Airport….(I’ve been told now that there are more options, but these are the ones I knew about at time of writing)
Option 1: Take the long distance bus from Pudong airport to central SIP. This option always leaves me extremely car sick, and it takes hours to get back home. It’s cheap, but time consuming. I hate this option the most.
Option 2: Take a high speed train to Suzhou. This option SEEMS simple, but in reality, it can end up being more expensive than option #3, which I’ll get to in a minute. First, you need to go from Pudong airport, to the train station. There’s no direct way to do this without taking a very overpriced taxi (200rmb, just to get to the station…and that’s if you don’ t get ripped off). Then, you have to deal with the train station, which is smelly, smokey, crowded and dirty.
Option 3: Hire a driver. This option has been our go-to for the last 3 years now, and we won’t be switching back any time soon. It costs about 350rmb (about $70 Canadian), but is highly convenient, fast and actually often ends up being cheaper than Option #2 in the end. During this coronavirus period, there was no question…we hired the car.
At this point, we usually walk past 100 illegal taxi drivers all trying to take us for a ride (literally and figuratively), and track down our guy… This year was easier though, because the illegal drivers were nowhere in sight! Still, I was nervous about the drive back to beautiful Suzhou…
Shanghai to Suzhou
Now, usually, getting back into Suzhou is simple. You stop at a few toll booths, but that’s it. Of course, this isn’t a typical year…
We’ve been following the news closely and I’ve been getting updates from various sources, including my school and friends who had already returned to Suzhou. It seemed like everyone gave us a different set of things we would need on that trip back, but we had no idea which ones were important and which ones weren’t. Here’s a list of some of the things we were told we would need:
- Our rental contract & residency permits
- An arrival form with the licence plate of the car we would be taking into the city (this was suppose to be done before we got back to China but our driver wouldn’t give us his licence plate number, making it impossible)
- A health code (which we couldn’t get because the only two options you could choose were “I’ve been in Suzhou for two weeks” or “I’ve been in a different Chinese city for 2 weeks”… Neither of which were true..
- A different code that we couldn’t get because we don’t have Chinese IDs cards
- A signature or the presence of our landlord to get back into our compound.
Here’s a list of what we actually needed:
- A bit of bare skin so that they could take our temperatures.
Our First Week Back
We were thrilled to see our cats, and they were thrilled to see us. It was nice sleeping in our own bed once more. We were gone for 37 days total, and in a lot of ways, we were happy our travels were over.
Life’s been a bit strange in Suzhou. We were technically supposed to be under quarantine for a week upon our return, but we were allowed to go out and get groceries or to pick up food, as long as we wore masks.
Most restaurants are still closed for dining, and are only doing take out. The few restaurants that ARE open for dining still have to close by 7pm, and being the late eaters that we are, we’ve ended up missing our window a couple of times now.
Cooking at home is just not really something we’ve done much in China, simply because the groceries we want are hard to find and really overpriced, so for the past 6 years, we’ve go out for lunch and dinner pretty much every day. Of course, the virus has changed all that, and our fridge is now actually stocked with more than just coffee creamer and a few bottles of hot sauce.
Online purchases are making their way to us now, slowly but surely. Delivery drivers can’t actually drive into our compound though, so we need to walk out to the front to get anything that’s brought in (including jugs of water for our water dispenser).
You have to wear a mask if you go outside, which makes sense to me. I know they don’t really help prevent you from getting sick…but they DO help prevent people from spreading their germs in the first place. The way I see it: if I have to wear a mask, that means the sick people need to as well. It makes me feel safer.
We’re being very diligent about washing our hands, washing our phones, washing down tables we sit at, and just basically not touching anything. I walk around with both hands in my pockets and I don’t take off my gloves unless I need to.
As of this week, a few restaurants have opened back up for dine-in, but with strange restrictions like ‘there must be 1.5 meters between each customer’ and ‘only 1 person can sit at each table’. Dave and I went out for dumplings for lunch yesterday and were suppose to sit at two separate tables. Of course, foreigners can kinda get away with ignoring some of the rules, so we sat down at a double table and sat beside each other instead of across from each other, and nobody said anything.
Getting into a Routine
For now, we’re continuing to try and stay in a routine. I teach online Monday-Friday, and that keeps me busy. We’ve been cooking most of our meals at home (which has been really nice!), and doing a lot of reading in my free time. I’ve finished 3 novels now in the past 8 days, and I’ve been slowly working my way through our photos so that I can finish up my last few blog posts. Life has been slower, calmer and more relaxed, which honestly has been a really good thing.
Teachers across China are still waiting for schools to re-open. It seems ridiculous now that my boss thought we’d be back in classes by February 17th, when in reality, we’ll be happy to be back before the end of March. For my own students, online learning has been okay. SIPFLS has done a good job of keeping students accountable and giving us tools we can work with. I have friends who are working with awful systems and whose students aren’t doing any of the work, making teaching an even more difficult task.
I have a few posts left for Langkawi, including one about the island’s wildlife, and also one for the eco-tourism offered on the island. Malaysia has become a very high contender for the next country where we will live. Our experiences there were great, and I can’t help but wish I were back there right now…